When we first moved aboard Nine of Cups, we spent the first two years sailing her on the east coast, Gulf of Mexico and Bahamas, learning the boat and figuring out what we needed and didn't need to change or add to her. Cups was a capable blue water vessel, but when we bought her, she was fitted out as a weekend sailor and had spent most of her time in a marina. We had lots of initial ideas about what we thought she needed to make her more suitable for living aboard and crossing oceans, but as we spent more time on her, our upfitting plans changed significantly. We still made mistakes with some of the gear we added, but our errors were fewer than had we done all our upfitting before gaining some experience.
Our experience on Blue has been quite similar. Blue started out as a cargo van, and I spent a lot of time figuring out what I thought we wanted and needed to make him suitable for our new cruising lifestyle. As we've mentioned before, rather than spending a year or two doing the complete upfit, the plan was to get as much done as possible on him before setting out on May 1st for his first 'shakedown cruise'. This turned out to be the bare minimum – a bed, fridge, composting toilet and the electrics (of course). Storage consisted of lots of bins stowed under the bed.
We'll be returning to Las Vegas soon, after about two months of cruising about and camping. Just as on Cups, what we thought we wanted initially has changed significantly from what we're now thinking. These are our current thoughts:
Galley. The biggest revelation is that we want more camper-van and less mini-RV. We enjoy cooking and eating outdoors, and we're now thinking that we don't want to devote interior van space to a galley and stove. Using the camp stove on a table or cooking over an open fire suits us just fine.
Memory foam bed. The Leesa foam bed turns out not to be ideal for camping. We found that when the temps are below 50 degrees or so, the mattress starts losing its memory foam capabilities and starts gaining brick-like characteristics. In fact, it was quite close to sleeping on a bed of bricks one night when the interior temperatures were in the 30's. Our 90 day free-trial had not expired when we discovered this 'minor' issue, and Leesa was quite happy to allow us to donate it to a thrift store and return our money. We like the mattress well enough in normal temperatures, however, that we decided to keep it and use it at home. We'll be searching for other alternatives over the next few weeks.
Murphy bed. All the thought and planning on making the bed into a Murphy bed may have been unnecessary. Having a double bed on a permanent platform isn't bad, and provides a lot of space for storage underneath. We'll give that more thought on our return.
Sitting area. The only time we spent inside, except when we were sleeping or driving, was when it was either too cold or raining outside. Right now, we have no comfortable sitting area, other than the front driver/passenger seats or sitting up in bed ... neither of which is ideal. If we were to make or buy settee cushions for the top of the refrigerator, we could use it as a sitting area when we couldn't comfortably sit outside. Then, if we had a drop-down or pull-out table mounted on the foot of the bed, we could eat or use the computers while sitting.
- Microwave. Likewise, when it's raining or too cold to be outside, if we don't have a galley, it might be nice to have a small microwave to heat or cook a quick lunch or dinner. The solar panels have had no trouble keeping the batteries charged with the fridge, coffee maker and computers, so it shouldn't be a problem running a small microwave for a few minutes.
- Commode cover. The toilet enclosure isn't optimal, and I would like to redesign it. Rather than opening to the side, it would be better if it opened forward, then up against the back of the driver's seat.
Sink. We'd still like a small sink. I've found some cute folding sinks that might work. They fold up against the wall when not in use – which would be most of the time. Still have to work out what to do with the gray water.
Shower. We really like camping in the state and national parks and forests, but most don't have shower facilities. Even with spritzing and lots of deodorant, we start getting a little ripe after a few days of camping. Our solution so far has been to get a hotel room or find an RV park a couple of times a week, which also gives us access to a wifi connection and allows us to post a few blogs. It would be nice to be able to shower in Blue, but there just isn't room to manage it inside. Lots of vans use the rear doors and a shower curtain to make a shower stall with a solar shower, and that seems like a reasonable solution.
Specialized stowage. There are several things that don't stow well right now, such as wine bottles; the coffee maker; dirty laundry; firewood; the solar/privacy window covers and long items like the screen house and camp chairs. I'd like to figure out better ways of stowing this stuff.
Cabinets and drawers. This hasn't changed much from the original plan, except that if we keep the bed as a platform, we can have more of it. We want drawers under the bed rather than the current bins, making the contents more accessible and providing a much more finished look. The rear facing drawers will be for the cleaning supplies, the pantry, and the kitchen utensils, as well as some tools. We'll keep a couple of bins for firewood and the bigger tools. We'll also add cabinets on the walls along the sides of the van.
Mosquitoes. We were in a couple of campgrounds where the mozzies were fierce. While we could spray ourselves with repellent, we couldn't keep them out of the van. Every time we opened the door to get food, camp chairs or cooking stuff, 50 more would follow us in. Having a screen behind the bed headboard on the rear side would probably prevent them from getting in when we were accessing the pantry and kitchen stuff, but I don't know how we'd keep them from getting in when the slider was opened. Even if that entry were screened, we'd still have to open the screen just as long to pass food, water, jackets, etc. in and out. We spent half the evening killing the buggers when we went in for the night, and still had dozens of bites by morning.
Other than that, the plan hasn't changed much. It might have been quicker to list the things that stayed the same - paneling on the walls and some classy flooring. Actually, come to think of it, we have some new thoughts on those too... stay tuned!